A Roman Feast: An Italian cooking class

Cooking class, Italian cooking class, Rome, cooking in Rome,

In Rome for 30 days, I took a cooking class through Airbnb. Cooking classes are my jam. I have taken several throughout my travels and they are all so different. Some good; some bad—cool instagram posts but thats it.

Only occasionally did I walk away with a big-ass smile on my face because the food was delicious. Initially, that was my ultimate goal. If I’m going to spend time and money to learn how to cook, the food should be great, right? I quickly learned otherwise.

A cooking class REALLY isn’t about the final product. It’s the experience.

In my most memorable classes, I didn’t love the food. I liked it, but it certainly wasn’t drool worthy. But what I took away was something more magnificent than the taste left on my tongue. I left with a new-found appreciation; a different perspective. A good cooking class makes you think differently about food. It doesn’t just teach you a recipe. Anyone can follow a recipe.

A good cooking class teaches you more. It teaches you about cuisine.

Cuisine is so much more than food. It involves culture, not just ingredients. It emphasizes technique, not just food combinations. Cuisine is passion. Simply put, cuisine is food consumed for the experience. How often in your daily life do you eat for the experience of it?

As Americans we eat on the go, rushing to work or gobbling things down because we’re hungry or they just look good. But, rarely, if ever, do we stop and think about food as passion, culture, and experience. Often times it takes us stepping away from our normal routine to learn new skills, gain different perspectives, and grow as humans.

Even if you don’t cook, I highly recommend taking a cooking class while traveling. It will expand your mind and by expanding, you grow. You become a better version of yourself.

Now… back to the cooking class… What an experience! The collective energy thrived in ways that most don’t, which lent itself to a more endearing experience. Chef Sylvia was super cool. She was neither a buzzing ball of joy or a captivating sarcastic. Chef was just herself which was somewhere in the middle. She taught us a lot about cooking but it was her passion about cuisine that was the most memorable.

We started the class by making tiramisu (vegan recipe hereh) because it needs to sit for at least 30 minutes for the flavors to meld. Really the best bet is to let it sit overnight. Two hours is doable if you’re making dinner for friends, but 30 minutes is minimal. This was my third time making tiramisu in a cooking class so I knew a bit about the drill.

The first time I made tiramisu was in a raw vegan cooking course, so needless to say, quite a different recipe. The second time was at a tiramisu specialty store. That’s all they did. Tiramisu. The Italian staple was made from scratch, which meant actually making the ladyfingers; aka the espresso-soaked cookies.

I have to say, although making tiramisu from scratch was a cool experience, the dish itself was mediocre. The tiramisu we made today was fabulous! Not the best I have ever had (like I said, I had A LOT of tiramisu this month), but super yum. We used pre-made ladyfingers but added some fresh strawberries for a little twist. I ate it all and would make it again… and eat it all… again.

Once we had the desserts in the fridge, we moved on to the appetizer which was fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and sardines. Eeeekkk! Now this girl loves a Caesar salad, but sardines just aren’t my jam. They gross me out.

I’ve preferred vegetarian food lately so meat is not in my happy place. Although we were all making our own meal for this class, the zucchini flowers were going to be shared so there was no way to skip the sardines. I bravely went with the flow.

We very gently opened the flowers (which we were instructed never to wash because they wilt). We inserted a chunk of mozzarella and a sliver of sardine. Even if sardines are your thing, this is not the time to go big. Trust me. The flavor is fierce.

Next, we prepared the frying batter that was simply flour and cold sparking water. There was no recipe for the batter. Instead getting the right consistency was key. The consistency was similar pancake batter. Not too soupy but still liquid. We dipped the stuffed flowers into batter then gently placed them into peanut oil to fry. The stuffed zucchini flowers were fried until golden brown; 2 to 3 minutes.

If you are new to frying foods, make sure you do your research when selecting an oil. Don’t just use whatever you have at home. Most oils oxidate at high heat, which is super-duper bad for you. Oxidation is like a rusty nail. Oxidation in your body is like your insides rusting. That’s not a good thing! Oxidizing oils are tricky too. For example, extra virgin olive oil is one of the best oils to use on the reg but it oxidizes easily at high heat so you should not fry with it. Peanut and vegetable oil are best but if you want to try something different, click here for more info on oxidation and oils.

I wasn’t a fan of the stuffed flowers. The chef said Italians love them, but this girl didn’t. I’m obsessed with salt but these babies were saaaaalty! The sardines combined with mozzarella were more than enough. I felt assaulted by the salt!

Chef Sylvia suggested trying the dish with a ricotta and basil stuffing. In this case you should bake them instead of frying because the inside is so soft. I am all about baking over frying if the flavor is going to be similar so I will definitely try this out but maybe add some spinach to the stuffing to make it a bit more healthful. I’ll report back after this experiment.

After devouring the flowers we moved on to making fettuccini. We began by mixing the dough, then kneading the dough, letting the dough sit, then rolling out the dough, cutting the dough, separating the dough, folding the dough, flouring the dough, slicing the dough and finally finishing off the fettuccini. It was a bitch!

I learned a super snazy technique, but preparing handmade pasta according to this recipe is a process. I had fun, but then again I love this shit. Please don’t be a kitchen wrench and make your own pasta solely for the taste. The “I made pasta from scratch,” feeling is for you, not your eaters. Handmade pasta is good, really good, but I’m not gonna say to die for. If you truly adore cooking or just want to do it for Instagram, have at it. If not, premade and purchased fresh pasta works just fine.

Our topping for the fettuccini was a mixture of pig cheek and tomatoes. Pig cheek is not my thing, but thankfully this recipe didn’t call for much. It was chopped into chucks and put over medium heat without oil because it made so much of its own. This was then drained (thankfully saving our arteries from the pool of grease).

Next, about a kilo and a half of diced tomatoes were added to make the sauce. These only sat on the heat for a few minutes. The tomato and pork cheek sauce was tossed with the cooked fettuccini and topped with pecorino cheese.

Was it good? Yes. Was it great? No. Did I have a. fan-f*cking-tactic experience? You betcha!

There were many things I learned today. I learned a little about finding the freshest ingredients when we started the day by picking up produce at the oldest Italian farmer’s market. I learned a good bit about preparation and tips to make the process more proficient as well as the thought behind the recipes- why use this flour instead of that; when to beat the eggs and when to fold them, etc.

What I learned the most about was why we should cook. Back in the horse and buggy days, people had to. Unless you were wealthy and romping off to roman bistros all the time (which were a thing even in the AD days), most of our food had to be prepared. Today, people don’t have to cook. Prepared food is available and sometimes even cheaper than homemade food. But cheaper doesn’t always mean better. Hell, flavorful doesn’t always mean better.

What this cooking course taught me was that homemade is the best way to nourish the soul. Nourishing our bodies with vitamins and minerals is one key, but our bodies are just capsules for our souls.

Cooking nourishes the body AND the soul. When we eat what we cook, we are consuming our own creation. We our nourishing ourselves with love. Self-prepared love.

You don’t have to cook every meal or even every day, but do yourself a favor cook occasionally. Your body and soul will thank you.